Two unfortunate incidents happened recently in two great democracies; India and US. Sheshachalam murders allegedly by Government forces quickly followed by brutal killing of five under-trials in Alair while in transit, both occurred in Andhra Pradesh and the death of Freddie Grey in police custody in Baltimore. Police excesses are not stray incidents in either nations. The number, nature, character or magnitude vary though. Notable differences, however, are on three counts- public reaction, media coverage, and actions taken by the administration.
Seshachalam and Alair murders did not stir much public reaction in India, except outcries from few expected quarters, human rights and civil society groups. Alair not even as much as Seshachalam as those murdered were branded “Muslim terrorist”. Some of the comments posted by readers in national dailies to the news of encounter deaths applauded the police action of extermination and encouraged more such kill, an exposure of the outlook of a segment of the public. In Sheshachalam, dead were 20 hapless daily wage earners, portrayed by administration and a portion of Telugu media as seasoned smugglers. Odds were all against them. They were poor, lower caste and do not belong to Andhra Pradesh. In all likelihood, they wouldn’t even know for whom they were actually slogging. The victims are expendable and easily replaceable. Public don’t care much about their existence or otherwise, there are one too many like them around and it is not closer home anyway to react.
The unscrupulous media memory celebrates each event, catastrophe and misfortune till the next. They enjoy the shortest memory span. These deaths were in news to be quickly faded, as it wasn’t igniting as much public interest as death of twenty ideally should. It stayed for sometime but eroded fast to give way to break more news. Public response and media have a crucial link in contemporary society. News and social media can make or break a movement. Sheshachalam or Alair haven’t fallen within the attention zone of media, perhaps for the inappropriate victim profiles.
Curious to know what happened after the encounter murders? In case you are, I too am. There is no concrete official answer that I can find. Some scant media report says, FIR is registered in Sheshachalam incident. Against whom? Who has conducted the inquiry? Who will be conducting further investigation? Any actions to protect the surviving witness? Hmm… all questions need not get answers even in democracies. Be happy and contended that at least one can ask questions. Alair, if media to be trusted, an IPS officer is investigating about the actions of his own junior officers. NHRC decided not to intervene in both cases as it wishes not to prejudice investigation.
All is not fine in Baltimore and in rest of US after the tragic death of Freddie Grey. Still miles away, I know the names of the perpetrators of the alleged crime, heard the charge being read out by the State Attorney, clear about the immediate actions the state has committed to take. It all happened because the public said in unmistakable terms that they want a police that is accountable. In my country, I am still at dark as to what my state is doing after allegedly killing twenty five people without any procedure. The method of this democracy is to brand a person Maoist, Terrorist or Smuggler and shoot. This, if not challenged today and held accountable, tomorrow you or me might be called the same for even asking questions. Then, it will be closer home and too late to react.